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Sister Survivor Exhibit Aims to Show Victims of Sexual Violence: You Are Not Alone

Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak, MSU Museum
MSU Museum

An exhibit honoring the hundreds of women and girls who say they were sexually abused by imprisoned former MSU sports Dr. Larry Nassar opens Tuesday, April 16 at the Michigan State University Museum.

It's called Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak. 

WKAR’s Laura Michels met with MSU Museum Director Dr. Mark Auslander.  We learned about collaborative role the young women who call themselves ‘sister survivors’ played in the process.

"This was very much about a new kind of approach to museums in which we were putting this very traumatized and  deeply troubled community in some ways  in the driver’s seat and helping to empower them to tell their own story," says Dr. Auslander. 

Dr. Auslander talked about the process of the museum co-creating with some of the young women who say they were abused by Larry Nassar, and the police detective and parents involved in the case.

"So one of the tough issues I think was how much you throw at visitors? I think there were individuals in the group that thought we need to show the intense degree of pain that we’ve gone through. It’s a fine art. We had to find a way how to voke the horror and the pain but still not traumatize our visitors and allow them to go through the entire exhibit together," says Dr. Auslander. "One of the hardest things for us to see as museum professionals but something that was very important for the sister survivors were what they called the grooming objects. So, Larry Nassar who was a skilled predator used physical objects to control his victims. These were gifts. He might come back from the national gymnastics competition with key chains or signed photographs of famous gymnasts that he would give to the little girls. In one case he even gave a gymnastics jacket to an 8-year-old girl.   And the implicit message was, you stick with me you too will eventually be an Olympic gymnast. And these objects were very well beloved by many of the young women when they were children even during the period where they were being abused on a constant basis. But they want to show,  they want to display these objects. They don’t’ want to hide from this long history of pain and suffering and control that they were in and then they want to talk about how far they have come."

Dr. Auslander  mentioned the theme of darkness and light as part of the exhibit  We asked him to walk us through what visitors might expect to see.

"There are 505 images representing all 505 known survivors.  So, when you come into the exhibit the first thing you see before we get into any of the heavy and hard hitting material is this 505 panels of beautiful abstract paintings and intermixed with them are black and white photographs. The next thing you encounter is the beginning of time line," he says. "We actually honored the survivors. They wanted to show 30 years of history of institutional failures so there are different actually colors whether or not is at MSU part of the story or USA gymnastics  or US Olympic Committee, what was going on in terms of law enforcement and court system, so there are different time lines that sort of overlap that  take you all the way from the 1980s and 90s pretty much to present day.

LM: This has obviously been such a hard time for the community, the nation, everybody impacted and even people who weren’t directly impacted, why should someone go to this?

MA: I know - It does seem like who would want to plunge into this? But it is in the most paradoxical and surprising way a very life affirming exhibit. All of us have experiences of suffering and all of us need in our souls, we cry out for something that is larger than ourselves. That thing that is larger for ourselves is that connection to other people. We learn about ourselves ultimately by learning about others. It takes a little courage to walk in the door of this exhibit, but it takes you somewhere profound and important. We have to remember what binds us together,  and it’s a chance to encounter our better angels ultimately. 

Larry Nassar was convicted of sexual assault last year. 


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